Thanks, Jim Steinman

Looking at the listing of works by Jim Steinman, who died two days ago, leaves me feeling as if I missed out. I truly know so little of what the man did as a writer, musician and producer. He remains one of the large blank spots in my musical awareness.

There’s a reason. My memory tells me – and bits and pieces of what I’ve read over the past few days confirm – that Steinman came to mass awareness with his writing and production of Meat Loaf’s 1977 album Bat Out Of Hell and the resulting 1978 single “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.”

By the time the single came out, I was in the working world, and I crammed my radio listening into what I could catch in the car as I drove from one reporting assignments to another and whatever I could catch at home on an aging stereo system my folks had found for me in a second-hand store. Still, I heard “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” occasionally, and I liked it, even if I found it a bit bombastic.

(A lot of other folks liked it, too: It went to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 31 on the magazine’s easy listening chart.)

But “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” and “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth” – the follow-up singles – didn’t grab me. And as I listened less and less to pop music in the late 1970s and early 1980, I missed whatever came next for Steinman.

Then, in 1984, I was in Missouri and I was the arts editor for the Columbia Missourian, published by the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. And one week, there were more new movies in town than my small staff could review, so I needed to jump in and review one of them. That happened occasionally, maybe four times during the year I filled the post. Out of the five or so movies opening that week, I selected Streets of Fire, more because I recognized the name of the female lead, Diane Lane, than for any other reason.

I loved it, especially the music. I cadged a bit on the grade I gave it, maybe awarding a B+. (I cannot put my hands on the review this morning although I know it exists in the filing drawers of unorganized clips from about fifteen years of reporting and editing.) Director Walter Hill called the movie a “rock and roll fable,” but even so, it’s over-the-top storytelling put me off just a bit.

But the music! There was stuff from the Blasters, Ry Cooder, the Fixx, Maria McKee, and a few others. And the Steinman-penned songs that opened and closed the movie blew me away: “Nowhere Fast” and “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” with – as I learned later – Laurie Sargent providing the vocals for Lane on the former and Holly Sherwood doing the same on the latter, both backed by a group of musicians that the filmmakers called Fire Inc.

Within a few days, I had the soundtrack, knew the writers and producers and anything else I could glean from the jacket. And in the thirty-some years since, any time I hear either of those two tracks from the soundtrack, I remember the thrill of finding something utterly new, a feeling that can stay with you for years.

I missed a lot of Steinman’s stuff, and maybe I should go back and dig into it, but I at least found two pieces from the man’s work that will always be a part of my life, and for that, I thank Jim Steinman.

Here’s the official video for “Nowhere Fast” and a clip with the last minutes of the film that includes “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young,” both credited to Fire Inc.

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